Coloradans buying their own health insurance might see higher premiums than last year -- but officials say those who shop around could save big in 2019.
Open enrollment for the state's exchange Connect for Health Colorado goes until Jan. 15. For coverage to begin on New Year's Day, a plan must be purchased by Dec. 15.
Michael Conway is the interim insurance commissioner for the state, and his division oversees regulation of the industry. He spoke with KUNC's Kyra Buckley about what Coloradans can expect for health insurance in 2019.
Kyra Buckley, KUNC: Are insurance premiums going up in 2019 for those buying coverage on the individual marketplace?
Michael Conway, Colorado insurance commissioner: The average rate is going to go up slightly in the individual market. This year it's going to go up 5.6 percent, but that's just the beginning of the story. What we're seeing for folks that get tax credits and have subsidies is, if they shop they may be able to lower their premiums by up to 50 percent. Even those folks that don't get tax credits, if they go out and they shop and they look at the other plans that are available to them, they may be able to have some substantial savings as well.
Buckley: What are some of the reasons for that small rate increase?
Conway: A piece of it is what the federal administration did between the removal of the (individual) mandate, the expansion of short term plans, and just kind of the continued uncertainty that's being caused. Because of those things that are happening at the federal level, it's impacting the individual market. But there's also just medical inflation that's in those numbers as well.
Buckley: A lot of people are saying that healthcare is one of their biggest expenses and that they might have to make difficult choices about whether to have lower premiums but high deductibles or vice versa. This fear might be elevated for somebody who has a preexisting condition. What would you suggest to someone who says health insurance is really breaking their bank right now?
Conway: What I would suggest to them is that they need to start engaging with their legislators at the state level. We have to view things at the state level to try and control health care costs, and in particular our health care costs are what drive up our insurance premium -- so what the hospital is charging, what your what your doctor is charging. And if we want premiums to go down on a sustainable front we have to start having really hard conversations about how we're going to reduce those health care costs.
But there's also things that we can do in the short term. We were proponents last year of what was the Reinsurance Bill in Colorado . The reinsurance bill in Colorado is going to, on average across the state, reduce premiums by 20 percent. We are anticipating that bill will be coming back next year, or a version of that bill at the very least will be coming back next year. So, for folks that are concerned about the premiums they're going to be paying -- which is all of us -- I think it's imperative for them to start talking with their legislators now, tomorrow, the next day, about health care costs so that we can drive sustainable premium relief.